Barbara Cully

February 23, 2009

Before the Open Field

…Where is your brother hisses the page…
–Jorie Graham

Out of decay, footsteps,
the blue violin of day,

and you
(dear poet), as it dire,
curled on your knees: nightgown tear-wet
and wrapped–hands
murmuring to the god who emits hiss and belch,
who knows his self through the self (the choosing self)–hunger-artist, parasitic.
Here you wake as his host in your bed
receptive as film)
and expire and expire…
(Is this the way it still is for you?)
Sleepless, scratching-and-typing, evermore warned,
like Alberti’s crow, a poet for one day, asking that the children phone him at dusk…
and the “never-lifting-back-to-the-sky…”?

Today at dawn, cycling,
I saw a roadrunner with a live gopher in its beak
(giant desert bird looking, frantic, for a place to hide)…
My threat real and posed, but brief, my presence hovering–
directionality added to speed–
(and imminently
gone). Never I
for a moment (in my moment) inveighing (or planning to)
upon the action unfolding. Only
I cycling,
cycling and calling out
to you–
poet (staring up),
blue voice of air
in the absent all.


That paratrooper, air-borne
howling alone–winter train
or child fallen through a mine
calling in the hedgerows–
committing the assault of grief to memory
(blue / voice / air), your mourning (as it dire)
bullets through the feet
and the wind
through the teeth of the day
you held the boy soldier’s
molar in your palm:
What else?
Oceanscape as a home and a grave far below and the howl of
(something like)
pine tree–why
does–startled by a breeze
nothing end?


This god got it bad: His words trickled–
whispered and perjured–
into ears as strange fires gleaming into night rain.
Out of decay, rise the steps and the prophetic tales of dreaming…
(so the book say).
I hold up my hand and my fingers are wicks.
Sun touches me perfect and the day is foresworn.
None passes (here) but the lonely seeker.
Of pearls, palaces born, or entombed entire–
as short as a chapter given to love.
Breaking herewith, many of the song-poems becoming a gate.
Gates, as it told, preserved or defiled.
So the god, scripted, said to the one who’d defend
his will to rise up
and the day to end.


Holiday, holiday, holiday–
the now-now-now mantra
in the field day of staving off battle–
This dialogue (lying low, meadow)
with the god in the corridor
(between armies arrayed)–
This charioteer of sentences
breaking this line on the margin–
this syllable–(chat/spit)
on the wire.

Until in the eleventh teaching he rises like a fire:
Your grandfather’s days like a pelt flayed
on the broad barn-side of desire–
Your sister’s grief exposed as a menagerie of stars.
Your mother’s face, a delicacy of bone picked clean–her eye
threadbare, her finger honed
as a knife or needle–
papery veins clipped by incisors
for a stout suture (time as god grown old)
where stories close.


Tide-flip of water-break at the shoreline.
The slap-slap of tiny god-shoes on the marina (?).
That gentle now-now of the nagging oracle.
That blue violin song of day in the dead poet rapping
(in the rust-filled corridor–)
Lonely, in the rough-hewn breakdown.
Blue–on a good day–seaside pelican lift-offs erupting triangular.
Hard-wired, repeating (now-now) in the blood borne
wheat-enriched metro-gnome patters of mind out of the order,
the universal.


I am nine with the silent god at my side after the fire.
Picking through the rubble with my father.
We are here to water my uncle’s ash-blown roses.
His body gone, “perished in the fire that burned his home.”
Right there, where the wood floor chars through to the basement of rusting tools.
(Screws and bolts oiled in neat little drawers like jewels.)
This rot-smell clinging to our clothes–equal parts water damage
and fire damage in this dry San Diego wind of Santa Ana air.
Desert blown to the sea.
Nine. The silent god at my side as my father cries.
Silent cry behind his bedroom door as the body bag is deposited.
Ambulance, coffin, ground.
Silent god in the wake-silent germ and pistil.
Stamen, quiet, and the air-borne mold entire–
lifting, wafting.
Blue violin of day,
blue voice of air, my poet, my poet.
Out of decay rise the steps,
you touch it, you touch it.


Barbara Cully is the author of Desire Reclining (Penguin, 2003); The New Intimacy (Penguin, 1997), which won the National Poetry Series Open Competition; and Shoreline Series (Kore Press, 1997). She teaches in the Department of English at the University of Arizona as well as in the Prague Summer Program. Poems from a new collection appear in CUE and Sonora Review, and are forthcoming in Tight.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: